When new businesses spring up, the question has to be asked: who will benefit from this?
The question was put to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Afamasaga Rico Tupai, following the opening of the $5 million submarine Cable depot at the Matautu Wharf.
The submarine cable vessel which has a crew of 60 odd people is just the beginning, with nearly thirty Samoans employed inside the depot working with the cables and the overseas crew.
T.E SubCom, the company who owns the cable maintenance vessel has invited small numbers of locals to come on board the vessel and train under the crew to learn to repair submarine cables, and Afamasaga said he hopes that number will grow.
By having locals in and around the vessel and the depot, more people will learn the skills needed to work in cabling and open up greater opportunities to work, and eventually he would like to see half the crew being Samoan.
Not only that, T.E SubCom would save money on flights.
“It’s cheaper for them because right now they are flying crew in, which by the way is good business for us because they fly Samoa Airways,” he said.
So outside of the vessel and depot crew, Afamasaga believes the broader economic effects are immense.
There will be growing business demand for restaurants, hotels, car rentals, water suppliers, petrol and more, he said.
This perceived benefit is why Afamasaga won’t be insisting T.E SubCom guarantee they train local people to work on the vessels and in the depot, despite those technical and engineering jobs also being promised as a result of the depot being built in Samoa.
“We are having discussions with the company to start training our own people here, and build capacity of our locals,” he said.
“We are given the chance right now for some of our locals to go on the boat and learn skills like splicing cables and there is a lot of room there for electrical engineers and mechanical engineers,” he said, but all of that is based on goodwill.
Afamasaga said the ministry explained to T.E SubCom they wanted capacity building to happen, but it will not be written into any agreements with the company, in case it risks the contracts completely.
However he said he is not concerned the company will invest time into training local staff regardless.
“It’s almost a no brainer to employ Samoans on this boat to keep the expenses down, but that is really up to the company, and we don’t want to push it.”
He said to focus on the potential upskilling of Samoans working in cable maintenance versus the economic impact for hospitality and retail would be to pay too much attention to a “fraction of a very big picture.”
“If we push hard to have our people employed on the boats, and the risk is losing these contracts because of our persistence to have this done in the contract, you are losing one thousand tala because you are pushing for one tala value, so to speak,” he said.
“It would be nice to have our guys trained but if it can’t be done, then fine…. The contract is not just financial benefit to Samoa Submarine and the Ports Authority but there are a lot of overspills into where Samoans are employed around the wharf.”